Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Recovering from Psychological-Emotional Trauma?

The entire Lebanese nation is living under extreme circumstances which are much more damaging than a physical war: a continuous psychological-emotional war fueled by most Lebanese and external factors. Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world.  Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized. Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by single-blow, one-time events, such as a horrible accident, a natural disaster, or a violent attack. Trauma can also stem from ongoing, relentless stress. In Lebanon, both cases are to be found. Sick individuals, sick communities, sick nation. Just like Robert Fisk’s book title “Pity the Nation”, or Adnan Houballah diagnosis “Lebanese are caught with the virus of violence, thus continuously traumatized and unable to heal their wounds”.

Following a traumatic event, or repeated trauma, people react in different ways, experiencing a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to think, feel, or respond to trauma. Emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma include: Shock, denial, or disbelief; Anger, irritability, mood swings; Guilt, shame, self-blame; Feeling sad or hopeless; Confusion, difficulty concentrating; Anxiety and fear; Withdrawing from others; Feeling disconnected or numb. Physical symptoms of trauma include: Insomnia or nightmares; Being startled easily; Racing heartbeat; Aches and pains; Fatigue; Difficulty concentrating; Edginess and agitation; Muscle tension…

These symptoms and feelings typically last from a few days to a few months, gradually fading as you process the trauma. Still, when there is no recovery process, and the trauma is transmitted from generation to generation, physical violence is most likely to occur. Even when one feels better, he-she may be troubled from time to time by painful memories or emotions—especially in response to triggers such as an event or an image, sound, or situation that reminds him-her of the traumatic experience.

My students always ask me if there is still hope to recover from this dramatic situation and rebound from tragic and shocking experiences, or from experiences that, on the surface, appear to be less upsetting. Even if I am not optimistic anymore - I used to be before I came back to Lebanon from Canada -, there is a slight chance of change. The healing process should occur on both individual and national levels. Lebanese must face and resolve the unbearable feelings and memories they have long avoided. Otherwise they will return again and again, unbidden and uncontrollable. They have to build or rebuild the ability to trust each other, or, it will be too late.